Apple's OS X Lion Mimics Google's Chrome OS--to a Point

by Sam Dean - Jun. 13, 2011Comments (0)

As Google's Chrome OS marches forward, one of the criticisms of it that remains is that it imposes a two-fisted usage model on users, where they must become comfortable with storing their data and applications in the cloud. We've raised concerns about whether this model will prove to be overly restrictive, while Google argues that it is introducing a new security- and cloud-centric model that will benefit everyone. Now, a small but important feature in Apple's new OS X Lion operating system illustrates how Google's two-fisted usage model and more permissive ones could exist in tandem. Apple appears to have gotten it right.

As Google officials noted when announcing Chrome OS: “In Chrome OS, every application is a web application. Users don’t have to install applications. All data in Chrome OS is in the cloud.”

That's true, but this model can be interpreted as forcing users to give up control of their data on local terms, and can be criticized from the perspective of those who love their local applications and local data used with them. Many critics of Chrome OS have likened it to Larry Ellison's failed attempts to introduce thin-client "network computers" that include no local resources at all.

Apple's new OS X Lion operating system, though, includes a way to boot directly into the Safari browser, creating a cloud-centric environment that is akin to the one Chrome OS introduces. Effectively, the user is booting into a browser-centric sandbox, where local data and applications are separate and secure. has a good explanation of this:

"When you elect to restart your system into Safari, you're effectively placing the Web browser into a sandbox. When it boots, your system will give any users with physical access to your machine the ability to surf the Web. But that's it. Users won't be able to access the system's files or applications...The comparison to Chrome OS stems from the fact that Google's operating system runs entirely Web-based: The browser is the primary method for interacting with the system. There's no underlying desktop layer to speak of."

What user would not choose this more permissive computing model over Google's restrictive one? With OS X Lion, you can work with a totally secure browser-centric sandbox, or you can work as you normally might with a full-fledged desktop operating system that works with local apps and data. You can do both.

In a way, the Apple model is like working with two operating systems at once--a dual-OS version of the future that we have predicted will become mainstream.  It's not too much of a leap to embrace this dual-OS version of the future. Just look at the many people running multiple OSes through virtualization. Or look at how easy it is to boot, say, Ubuntu in one disk partition and run another OS in a different partition.

Chrome OS is still young, and Google should take careful note of how Apple is allowing for the best features found in Chrome OS to benefit Apple users, while not steering them totally away from the computing model that they've known. That's shrewd.

Shailesh Patel uses OStatic to support Open Source, ask and answer questions and stay informed. What about you?


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